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An important aspect of fantasy football is getting ahead of the curve in player values. We've listed and highlighted some players who show a change in value and let you know what to do with them in Week 16's "Three Up, Three Down" article.
Antonio Brown/Ronald Jones II: After a brutal Sunday Night Football shutout included injuries to Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Leonard Fournette, the Buccanneers are going to have no choice but to rely on Brown and Jones over the next few weeks. Godwin has been diagnosed with an ACL tear which will shut down his season, and Evans and Fournette are nursing hamstring injuries that could keep them sidelined through Week 16. There was some concern that Brown wouldn’t rejoin the team after his fake vaccination card fiasco, but with no other viable options in the receiving game, they have to bring him back now. He should be Tom Brady’s favorite target, well ahead of Tyler Johnson, Breshad Perriman, or Jaelon Darden. Through his five games earlier this season, Brown averaged 8.4 targets, 5.8 receptions, 83.6 yards. He found the end zone four times in those six outings. On a per-game basis, only Cooper Kupp, Davante Adams, Deebo Samuel, Justin Jefferson, and Tyreek Hill are averaging more PPR points than Brown has this year. He was putting up WR1 numbers earlier in the season, and although he should see extra attention from opposing defenses, 10-12 targets are a reasonable expectation. Brown is just a few years removed from being the best wide receiver in fantasy football and should be able to support strong numbers with Brady. As for Jones, he was a tank last year when Fournette missed time. He averaged 22.5 touches, 114.5 yards, and 0.8 touchdowns through four games. Jones, a former first-round pick, has always been an impressive rusher. Fournette is more well-rounded in the passing game, but Jones should have no issue handling a full workload in his absence. Both Brown and Jones can be relied on as top-12 options at their positions until Evans and Fournette return. Once Evans returns, Brown can still be relied on as a solid weekly start. As for when Fournette returns, Jones will fall back to his role as a handcuff.
Gabriel Davis: After looking like a busted fantasy football draft pick all year, Davis is heating up at just the right time. Through Week 12, Davis was the WR50 on the year. Over the last three weeks, he’s been the WR8. A lot of that is due to an unsustainable touchdown rate, as Davis has hauled in four over the previous three games. Still, his target splits over that time jumped from 2.5 per game to 6.3. Emanuel Sanders could be back before the season ends, which would undoubtedly cap Davis’ newfound ceiling. Still, the young receiver has stepped up in the veteran’s absence after showcasing solid chemistry with Josh Allen through his first two seasons. Given where Stefon Diggs was drafted and his preseason expectations, he’s been a bit of a disappointment this season. Much of that has been due to Allen spreading his targets thinner, whether to Dawson Knox or the WR2. That WR2 role was filled by Emmanuel Sanders earlier in the season, and it is Davis’s now. He’s surely going to regress from his recent output, but you can rely on him as a WR3 with immense upside until Sanders returns.
Brandin Cooks: With three weeks left, Cooks needs just 53 yards to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns in six of his last seven seasons. He’s done that with five different teams! For whatever reason, Cooks is overlooked in both the NFL and fantasy football as he’s on his way to churning out another great season. And he’s heating up at just the right time for fantasy managers. He’s got back-to-back games with 100 yards. While that may seem a bit flukey, it’s worth noting that Davis Mills had the starting nod in both of those games. Cooks’ usage with or without Davis hasn’t been that different (8.8 with and 8.2 without). But the quality of targets is much higher, and it’s generating better fantasy output. With Davis starting, Cooks is averaging a solid 6.5 receptions per game for 72.3 yards. Cooks was only hauling in 4.7 targets for 61.5 yards with Tyrod Taylor under center. The Texans’ defense is third-worst in the league in both yards and points allowed, so game scripts should continue to favor Cooks as teams force the Texans to air it out late. Cooks’ usage rates (snap share, target share, air yards share, route participation) all land inside the top-12, and he’s the clearcut favorite weapon for this struggling squad. Expect Mills, a third-round rookie, to lean on Cooks as he wraps another strong fantasy campaign.
Dak Prescott: Throughout the offseason, Prescott was touted as a savvy pivot from the high draft capital it would cost to acquire the “Big Four” quarterback tier of Patrick Mahomes II, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen. Over the last few seasons, Prescott had been a garbage time monster. A porous defense would leave the Cowboys airing it out in high-powered shootouts seemingly every week. Prescott was known for scrambling near the end zone and put up some big fantasy outings over the years. Well, the Cowboys’ defense has been playing great football lately, and Prescott is struggling. The common narrative is that the defense is limiting his opportunities, but Prescott is averaging 41.2 attempts over the last five weeks. For comparison, he averaged just 36.3 during the previous three seasons. He’s thrown five interceptions and just five touchdowns in his last five games and has failed to hit the 250-yard mark in four of those. And while he was never known for his elite rushing prowess, it was a significant part of his game and part of the reason he was such a favorable fantasy target. He has just 13 rushing attempts for 14 yards during this cold spell. On the entire season, he’s rushing for a career-low in yards per game by over 50-percent. He rushed for 24 touchdowns in his first five seasons and has done so just once this year. That’s likely due to his injury last season and new contract, but the lack of rushing hurts his fantasy value. Once the injuries to play-makers in Dallas are factored in, it doesn’t paint a picture for a bounceback on the horizon. Prescott still possesses the high ceiling he did in the offseason, but his recent struggles could force you to look at the waiver wire in Week 16.
Nyheim Hines: He’s coming off a touchdown last week, but don’t let that dupe you into thinking he’s a reliable starter. Make no mistake about it; this is Jonathan Taylor’s backfield. Hines hit a season-low 19-percent snap share in Week 11 and has only surpassed that mark once since. The Colts are unsurprisingly enamored with Taylor as he makes a run at Offensive Player of the Year. Prior to that Week 11 game, Hines was averaging 4.3 carries and 3.9 targets per game. That’s nothing to write home about, but the passing-game usage made him a decent flex option. Since then, he’s seen 2.0 carries and 2.5 targets per game, nearly half of his previous usage. In PPR leagues, Hines’ most favorable format, he’s the RB53 since that shift in opportunity. Last week against the Patriots, he didn’t see a single carry but took his lone reception for a nifty touchdown. That type of usage is not something that you can comfortably rely on. Hine is worth a stash in the event of an injury to Taylor, but he belongs firmly on the bench otherwise.
Saquon Barkley: Memories of Barkley’s rookie season make him such a tantalizing fantasy asset, but his best days are behind him. Perhaps an entire healthy offseason can help him get back up to speed, but it probably won’t be happening in 2021. Additionally, the Giants season is essentially over. Though mathematically in it, it would take everything short of a miracle for them to see the postseason. Because of that, expect to see Barkley’s workload eased as Devontae Booker gets more work. Barkley has garnered just 55- and 59-percent of snaps over the last two weeks, getting outrushed by Booker in Week 15. Barkley is still just 24 years old and will be coming back to New York in 2022 for the final year of his rookie deal. The Giants have no reason to overwork him in a lost season when they’ll have a significant financial decision to make regarding his future next year. So much of Barkley’s fantasy production as a rookie came from feathered check-down passes from Eli Manning. He took those 121 targets for 721 yards and four touchdowns. Since Daniel Jones became the starter in 2019, receiving work has been sporadic and infrequent. There’s no argument about Barkley’s talent when he came out of Penn State. He was a generational talent and is still young enough to turn his career around. But the chances that will happen in the final few weeks on a 4-10 team are slim. It’s time to change the way we view Barkley in fantasy football. Rather than the elite running back we perceived him to be this offseason, he should be valued as a shaky RB2 going forward.